Tester tells Obama Administration to restore job-creating mine cleanup efforts
Senator says proposal to drop mine cleanup will have ‘disastrous result’
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is criticizing the Obama Administration for holding up mine clean-up efforts that create Montana jobs, and he’s demanding the U.S. Interior Department change its mind.
The President’s proposed budget for 2012 would eliminate current grant funding for abandoned mine clean-up in certified states like Montana. Instead, the Administration proposed a funding structure that would reduce resources for historic “high production” states like Montana.
Tester says the Obama Administration proposals are out of touch with the needs of rural states like Montana, and that the “the disastrous result on the ground will be a missed opportunity to create good-paying jobs for Montanans.”
“There are still many critically important clean-up projects ongoing in Montana,” Tester wrote in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew. “As a result, approximately 85 percent of funds are used to create good-paying jobs in the local economy.”
This budget uncertainty led to the state of Montana halting all new projects, which Tester cited in his letter.
“The result is damaging to both the environment and our state's economy,” Tester added. “I urge you to swiftly reverse these policies to put people back to work in Montana.”
Tester also said recent widespread flooding in Montana highlighted the need for continued mine cleanup work.
“Just this week alone, it was reported that 15 abandoned coal mines have collapsed from the flooding, and there is still an uncertain count of how many hard rock impoundments have breeched,” Tester wrote.
Tester recently introduced legislation to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, to continue support for abandoned mine cleanup projects by restoring limits on the liability of states carrying out such work.
Tester’s letter to Salazar and Lew is available on his website, HERE, and appears below:
The Honorable Jacob Lew
The Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Dear Mr. Lew and Mr. Salazar:
It has come to my attention that a high-priority abandoned mine (AML) cleanup project in Montana is on hold because of two proposed policies recently suggested by OMB and the Department of Interior. I am greatly concerned that if these policies are not quickly clarified or reversed, worthy environmental restoration projects will not be realized. The disastrous result on the ground will be a missed opportunity to create good paying jobs for Montanans and pollution problems will remain.
First, the President's 2012 budget proposes to eliminate the mandatory formula grants for abandoned mine clean-up in certified states. Additionally, the administration suggested changing the proposal from a formula grant to a competitive grant, based on priority need. This proposal undercuts the 1990 amendments to the Surface Mining and Coal Reclamation Act (SMCRA), which require payments to states based on historic production levels. This proposal views payments to certified states as unnecessary because certified coal states have completed their high priority work. This assertion misses the mark. In Montana, for example, our high priority coal projects are mostly completed, but we have many abandoned hard rock mines that need attention. These pollution points pose larger and more immediate problems to our waterways than lower priority coal sites.
The budget request asserts that certified states don't use these funds for clean-up. I can assure you that, with respect to Montana, this assertion is incorrect. There are still many critically important clean-up projects ongoing in Montana and that is why the state legislature required that federal AML funds must be spent performing restoration, as SMCRA intended. As a result, approximately 85 percent of funds are used to create good paying jobs in the local economy. This may not be true for all certified states, but Montana is committed to restoration of these legacy mining issues.
Unfortunately, such a change in the law would make Montana's goals harder to reach. Indeed, given the budget proposal, the State of Montana has halted all new projects, including one in Granite County, which is a $3.2 million cleanup effort that will put people to work restoring clean water. In the attached letter sent to the Granite County Commissioners, the state outlines its worry about future funding because of the administration's budget proposal. I urge you to clarify that this Administration is committed to funding Certified States programs in future budgets so Montana can make these investments today.
Second, the administration continues to stand behind the policy of limiting liability coverage for states that use their AML funds to clean-up hard rock mines. This misguided policy was implemented through regulation by the last administration. As a result, states like Montana, that have worked for over 20 years in good-faith to clean-up both coal and hard rock mines are now limited to working on lower priority coal reclamation, rather than the most environmentally necessary projects. I, and others, have previously raised this issue for both certified and uncertified states and tribes, but the Office of Surface Mining refuses to recognize that its rule does not follow the letter of the law. This problem could be simply fixed by amending the rule, but instead Congress is forced to legislative correct these rule amendments. That is why I've introduced S. 1003, which returns liability coverage to certified states and tribes. I urge you to reconsider this policy and administratively over turn this unfounded rule.
The current flooding in Montana has highlighting the need for swift action to secure unstable tailings ponds by destroying a number of unaddressed mine waste impoundments. Just this week alone, it was reported that fifteen abandoned coal mines have collapsed from the flooding, and there is still an uncertain count of how many hard rock impoundments have breeched. I understand OMB's efforts are intended to ensure that the most-needed projects are funded with AML funds. However, in Montana, these policies are actually encouraging the opposite effect. Our highest priority projects are going unaddressed. The result is damaging to both the environment and our state's economy. I urge you to swiftly reverse these policies to put people back to work in Montana.
Thank you for your consideration.